Saturday, November 12, 2011

Think Kay!

Getting bored is not allowed.
Kay Thompson

Happy Saturday! 
I went to a wedding last night. It was on a "ship" that sailed around Manhattan". It was formal. I, for one, don't mind getting into a tux. No expense was spared on the wedding. The bride was radiant. 
The groom was handsome.The ten bridesmaids were gorgeous. So were the groomsmen. And the children in the wedding party were cute and adorable. They entered to Kamakawiwoʻole's version of Over The Rainbow. They were married by a muppet. Yes, a muppet. It was fun and clever. I met some nice people. I was thrilled to be invited and was having a great time UNTIL the band started. It was at an excruciating level with the microphone practically down the male "singer's"  larynx. I could not understand ONE word. It was loud, obnoxious (at least to me) and out of place at what was otherwise a gorgeous evening. They were wearing dirty black tee shirts, black jeans, and tennis shoes. This was about THEM. It was not about the guests at the wedding. 
Perhaps that is what the bride and groom wanted. But why would they send out invitations requesting people to dress formal (though most didn't) and hire a band that practically spit in the face of their guests? The band proved my theory between entertainers and performers. Entertainers are focused on their audience. 
Performers are focused on themselves. IF they were hired to be background, WHY were they playing at an ear piercing level that I could not have a decent conversation with anyone WHILE they were polluting the air with their noise.  There was nothing pleasant about them. I have noticed that at some weddings the music is at such a level that people are not permitted to have normal conversation. Hire a band that will appeal to the people you invite. This went on from 7PM until 11:30. I was on a boat...I couldn't even escape! I came home last night with a headache of massive proportions. What happened to good music? Why has our society and culture brought into this? 

This afternoon, I am hosting a panel discussion celebrating the legacy of Jerry Herman: 
Nov 12
LOCAL 802 MUSICIAN'S HALL, 322 West 48th Street, NYC
An Afternoon Celebrating The Legacy of Jerry Herman
I am hosting and I have assembled an amazing panel that includes Klea Blackhurst, Ken Bloom, Marge Champion, Amber Edwards (Words and Music, the award winning documentary on Jerry Herman), Sondra Lee (Hello Dolly!'s original Minnie Faye), Miles Phillips, Donald Pippin, Lee Roy Reams with John Fischer on piano. $10 non members of the Sheet Music Society. 

I got a "google alert" this AM for Jerry Herman regarding the current tour of La Cage Aux Folles, currently in Cleveland and starring George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber. Several things jumped out at me. First of all, the review started with this sentence, "Barry Weissler isn’t one of those absentee theater producers out for a quick buck. When he talks about his projects, such as the tour of the revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” now playing in downtown Cleveland, it’s clear he loves being involved in all that a hit Broadway show can be."

Say what you want about the Weisslers, but they are hands on and have a passion for the theatre that I SHARE. I can't say the same about most "producers" working in the theatre today.
He's a real producer. He not only raises the money-he does the work. He works with the creative team/ He chooses the cast.

Barry and Fran Weissler have produced their share of hits, perhaps most famously the revival of the musical “Chicago” in the 1990s, when they bravely put up their own money when financing fell short. (Billions of dollars in revenue later, the move probably didn’t seem quite so daring.)
Barry says about La Cage,  “It brings a feeling of joy and love to the audience unlike any other show I’ve done — and I’ve done a lot of shows,” he said. “I’ve never had a production in which the audience refuses to leave the theater. Nobody leaves,” he insists. “They don’t.”
Adapted for Broadway in 1984 by Harvey Fierstein from a play and subsequent 1978 French movie of the same name, “La Cage” features a old-fashioned musical score by Jerry Herman, who also wrote music and lyrics for “Hello Dolly!” and “Mame”.

Come spend the afternoon with us and revel in good old fashioned GREAT music.
Earlier this week was the birthday of Kay Thompson. Because of other "timely" blogs, I'm a little delayed in getting to Kay. And through the power of FACEBOOK, I have connected with Sam Irvin who penned the biography of Kay, "Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise”.
 Kay Thompson was slender, sleek and unbelievably versatile. She was a dancer, a singer, a pianist, a composer, a choreographer, and, if that wasn't enough, an author. As many thousands of Americans know, she created a night-club act that can only be described as indescribable, The critic from Variety tried to pin it down more concisely, "Her act is paced like a North Atlantic gale," he began bravely, but then threw in the sponge. "Miss Thompson is more than an act," he said finally. "She's an experience." 
 She wrote Eloise simply by listening to Eloise talk (Eloise talks in a wispy, breathless version of Miss Thompson's gusty speech) and then writing down what Eloise had said.

Yesterday, Sam and I had a wonderful discussion discussing his book and all things Kay! As I listened to this cacophony of sound last night, I sat there thinking about Kay. Unfortunately, due to a lack of footage, there is not that much available for today's audience to get a feel for Kay beyond her brilliant star turn in Funny Face.
Thank God for Sam who put the pieces together with this book and Liza Minnelli, Kay's god daughter, who recreated the excitement of the Kay Thompson nightclub act in Liza;s incredible Tony Award winning Liza's At The Palace which I saw and loved.
Liza Minnelli brought her unmatchable magic to Broadway, when she starred in  “Liza’s At The Palace…!” several years ago. Produced by John Scher/Metropolitan Talent Presents & Jubilee Time Productions and directed and choreographed by Ron Lewis, the evening featured an incomparable Minnelli songfest including many of her personal favorites and signature hits, followed by a dance-filled tribute to the groundbreaking late-1940s nightclub act of Minnelli's godmother, Kay Thompson. 
 Along with a twelve-man orchestra led by conductor/drummer Michael Berkowitz and pianist/musical supervisor Billy Stritch, “Liza’s At The Palace…!” highlighted with many of Liza’s showstoppers such as “Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time,” and “New York New York” – all written especially for her by the legendary Broadway song writing partnership of John Kander and Fred Ebb. For the first time onstage, Liza paid an affectionate salute to  Kay Thompson who was a legendary performer in her own right (“Think Pink!” from “Funny Face”), as well a gifted vocal arranger and Music Director/vocal coach at MGM Studios who worked with stars such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne. Supported by a quartet of dynamic singer/dancers, Liza performed musical hits (with the original vocal arrangements) from Thompson's act including such numbers as “I Love a Violin,” “Clap Yo' Hands,” “Jubilee Time” and “Hello Hello”---set to brand-new staging and choreography by Mr. Lewis. Accompanying her onstage was Cortés Alexander, Jim Caruso, Tiger Martina and Johnny Rodgers. Sam Irvin also acted as a consultant on this portion of the show.
I fell in love the first time I saw her Diana Vreeland inspired star turn in Funny Face. I asked Sam where it started for him and "Why Kay"? "He said when he was a kid, his mother and two older sisters read the Eloise books to him." He was fascinated with the adventures of Eloise at The Plaza hotel. So having the books around the house, he was familiar with the name Kay Thompson. Years later when he saw Funny Face, he put the connection together that this was the same person!

I asked why there wasn't more material out there on her. Sam said that Kay was a very litigious personality and having come through the machinery of MGM was very guarded as far as her private life was concerned.  You can read more about Kay, in addition to Sam's book There, at Eloise Website.

"I am Eloise.  I am six.  I am a city child.  I live at the Plaza." 
Thus begins our introduction to Eloise.  Born circa 1949 and introduced to us in 1955, Eloise's adventures have come to life in a series of four books. 
We learn all about Eloise, Nanny, her "rawther" British nanny, her dog Weenie who looks like a cat, and her turtle Skipperdee who eats raisins and wears sneakers. An international traveler, Eloise has been to Paris and Moscow too! 
There is also a great article about Kay by Marie Brenner that originally ran in Vanity Fair. Marie Brenner also wrote "The Absolutely Essential Eloise" available through Amazon.
Check out Sam's website, celebrating his book. It is an incredible website celebrating an amazing book. Sam told me it took him about 10 years to compile this book with many interviews tying all the pieces of the Kay Thompson puzzle together, including Andy Williams who was part of The Kay Thompson club act when he was 19 (Kay was 40 at the time) and Liza Minnelli, Kay's god daughter. He also interviewed Hilary Knight who illustrated the Eloise books. 
Interesting tidbits I learned... (You'll have to read Sam's book to get all the details!)
In 1947, when Kaye was doing her  nightclub act, she was paid $1,000,000 for a three year contract...long before Elizabeth Taylor's infamous million dollar salary for Cleopatra!

She was offered the role of Vera Charles in Auntie Mame opposite Rosalind Russell. Coral Browne eventually got the role.
The original casting for The Pink Panther was to include Peter Ustinov as Inspector Clouseau, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner (as Clouseau's wife). When Ustinov quit three days before shooting and replaced with Peter Sellers, the direction and tone of the film changed along with major casting changes. Thompson walked off the movie and her role was split between Fran Jeffries and Brenda de Banzie.

Kay was a very strong willed personality and was not really a team player and therefore difficult to direct. She wanted to be in charge of every aspect. Of course, doing her own nightclub act afforded her the freedom to do this!
She was married twice: to Jack Jenney, trombonist and bandleader, married 1937, divorced 1939 and to William Spier, radio producer, married 1942, divorced 1947.
She had a torrid affair with Andy Williams. This is documented also in Andy Williams' autobiography, Moon River And Me.

To read more, order Sam Irvin's book today. CLICK HERE!

And order the Kay Thompson collection!

Where do we go from here? YOU TELL ME!

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog! 

I love you ALL!! 

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


 Become A Facebook friend of mine!
Follow me on Twitter If you've seen one of my appearances/shows, add your thoughts to my guestbook at

Tomorrow's blog will bea follow up on my SHEET MUSIC EVENT today.


Richard Skipper,

No comments:

Post a Comment